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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Jolanta Kyzikaitė, Tomorrow Is Today, 2007. From the MO Museum collection.

Vilnius Review will now feature a new column. Before the year ends, we plan to present 10 young poets and prose writers who haven’t yet published books but who have been noted for their involvement in the literary scene, including periodicals, literary readings, and youth contests. For many of these authors, the magazine offers a first step into the foreign space because we will be publishing the first English translations of their work. Equally, this is an opportunity for the foreign reader, interested in the literatures of Lithuania and other small countries, to discover the names of these budding young writers and their opinions on writing as well as appreciate the lively pulse of literature in development.

Our first publication consists of three poets – Patricija Gudeikaitė, Austėja Jakas, and Linas Daugėla. All three were born in independent Lithuania; all three participate in poetry readings and publish their poems in the periodicals; all three have been critically praised for their work. We supplement the translated texts with brief author introductions and answers to our Vilnius Review questionnaire, which explores the personalities of the debut writers and their relationship with writing.

Saulius Vasiliauskas

 

 

Patricija GudeikaitePhoto by Simona Rusteikaitė

PATRICIJA GUDEIKAITĖ

Patricija Gudeikaitė (b. 1998) is a literary event organizer and young poet. She graduated from the Kaunas Santaros Gymnasium and later earned a professional degree as a florist. Her poetry, bearing motifs of alienation, fringe states, and temporality, deals with the themes of mental health, sociopolitics, duality, and ambivalence. Gudeikaitė believes that all art is autobiographical and describes her own poetry as confessional.

 

no contact

my room –
is a boxing ring –
in which I am –
Muhammed Ali –
boxing with the dead –
shouting at the living –
speaking with the images on the wall –
I shuffle in place –
throw my stuff through the window –
because I can’t calm down –
because for twenty years now –
there is no contact –
just a growing sense of paranoia –
just a life lived incognito –
just the mortal blows of these metamorphoses –
because it’s been twenty years –
and I’m still just speaking with shadows

 

 

Dissociations, for Hildegard von Bingen

I

(Hildegard plaits an ivy wreath while speaking to herself in the third person)

“this morning –
before the sun –
rose up in the sky –
she saw once more –
a bleeding hyena –
at that moment –
she was flogging herself –
with a leather lash –
praying to God –
to send her a sign”

II

(Hildegard takes off her hair-shirt)

at first –
she stopped speaking –
all through the days –
lying in bed –
gesticulating –
satanic signs

(as is well known –
Hildegard was possessed)

the sisters saw her –
at night –
risen from bed –
eyes shut tight –
walking in circles –
she banged on the doors –
shouting:
“the military operation has been cancelled!”

(as is well known –
Hildegard was possessed)

the next night –
she snuck out of her cell –
into the monastic garden –
quietly giggling –
she dug the earth with bare hands –
whispering curses –
she slowly stood up –
and cursed herself

(as is well known –
Hildegard was possessed)

they found her unconscious –
her body –
rigid –
riddled with animal bites –
the pupils of her eyes –
furious

(as is well known –
Hildegard was a saint)

 

 

escapism

I had to forget this time –
I had to gather myself into my arms –
I’m not Arthur Rimbaud –
my Africa –
these four walls –
my Africa –
an insatiable hunger –
a civil war –
the blood of slaughtered livestock –
Hutus and Tutsis –
my Africa –
the bullet that killed –
Malcolm X:
my Africa –
a defeat –
a curse:
my Africa –
black as tar –
the only shelter –
walking on all fours –
I am the leader of my own tribe

Translated by Rimas Uzgiris

 

 

Linas DaugelaPhoto by Vytautas Paplauskas

LINAS DAUGĖLA

Linas Daugėla (b. 2002) was born and raised in Kretinga. He currently lives in Vilnius and studies Lithuanian philology at Vilnius University. According to Daugėla, his interest in writing came about naturally as a means to understand others, discover the world, and alleviate a Sisyphean existence.

 

nectar of lies

you need to tell lies in this world
so as not to seem strange
so the earth would not be so heavy
as you clutch your pillow tight

for how can you admit that it never happened
that you never tasted the world’s sap
your body growing crusty like stale bread
for how can you say that you have only read
in theory
about darkness
in texts translated from dead languages

sometimes you have to lie
so as not to seem too chaste
so as not to be too much of a pessimist
or so no one makes jokes about you
comparing you to the characters in fairy tales

you have to lie
so that it would be easier to talk
to the friends of friends
otherwise you’ll just be talking about the weather
while hiding your bachelor’s degree under your arm
like the sweetest nectar

you need to tell lies in this world
so you could still laugh
so you could wade out of darkness
so you wouldn’t have to dive into it
and then fish for yourself
in unfinished messages
or to look for yourself in elevators and curse words
and in the interpretations of dreams

you have to lie to your loved one
so that when you return to an empty garage
and turn off all the lights
on a black midnight
you can pound your own chest
and grasp the lapels of darkness itself

you have to lie to yourself
to be able to recognize
the truth

 

fogging up

from the test tubes of dusk
the homeless seep out

they are coming to us
to be alienated

the final song is never sung
for ourselves

maybe that’s why test tube glass
gets all fogged up

while we try to see through it
for a miracle

 

workaholics

when you got into a fight
you hated him
as I had hated him
for a long time

but when you hated him
it was easier for me
I could hate him less
as you fulfilled that duty
for me

so I went on a vacation from hate
but the vacation came to an end
a vacation that was not paid for
with either pimples on my forehead
or my blood pressure going up

now I’m going back to work
and you won’t be able to
hate him that much
all by yourself
so as to fill up all your working hours

Lord
what workaholics
we are

Translated by Rimas Uzgiris

 

 

  Austeja JakasPhoto by Maël Coillard

 

AUSTĖJA JAKAS

Austėja Jakas (b. 1994) is from Vilnius and describes her childhood time as spent between the forests of the capital city and Dzūkija. She has a degree in graphic design and works as an illustrator. Jakas has published her poems in the cultural magazines Nemunas and Šiaurės Atėnai and participated at the Poetry Spring and Literary Sprint readings.

 

***

I met a dog
he had white fur, very clean
from his mien I understood his owners spared no expenses in training him
I was walking along and he opened the door for me, oddly wiggling his ears
yes, he opened the door and I couldn’t figure out how that could be true
(since when do dogs open doors?)
then I had some other thoughts
dogs open doors and can open lots of other things
for example, a bottle of beer, or a tin of tea
I had some more thoughts then
they came and came and they tortured me
at which point the dog opened the windows
(since when do dogs open windows?)
after a while, nothing surprised me anymore
I was no longer surprised at people or their choices
I was no longer surprised at clothes made of gold that shed scales as you go
I was no longer surprised that people used to walk around in wooden clogs
that people sit in jails with pictures of loved ones on the walls
or that they upload videos to youtube about how they ate two kilos of chili

I’m still surprised that you can transplant a heart
and that mothers read their children’s diaries at night
still surprised that people are lonely and tired

my good white dog
keeps my secrets
turns out the light when I go to sleep
my heart donor to be

 

 

***

when my father left everything stayed the same
domestic life continued and I had to wash the dishes
sweep the floors and defrost the freezer
everything stayed the same except
him
he was tall enough but very thin
our apartment had high ceilings so he had plenty of head room

when my father left he took his books and religious icons
he took his thoughts and fears away in a black bag with plastic handles
which cut into your hand when you carried them
he spoke quickly in convoluted sentences

when my father left he got into a bus and drove off
later, he became a fisherman and pulled grey nets from the sea
he stopped gazing at women and paging through erotic magazines

he was a body and a hole
he liked to do sudoku
patience was not his virtue

in his being there or not I find myself his daughter
in his being there or not
I dream the same dreams
snakes and homicidal janitors with yellow gloves
who come to fix the broken sink and
ask strangely personal questions
they believe the earth is flat and that feelings are also

my father is an eater of bread
and an eater of ham
he’s a reader of books about Ancient Egypt
his thoughts are the color of the sea
when it scrubs the sand from the sea floor

my father has seven ribs
each one has a special function
one of them is me

when my father left another father came
and then another
after that, all fathers became copies of one another
they all had the same face and the same length of arms
their teeth were in the same order
from right to left
more or less like how the Arabs write

my father is a person who eats bread
he speaks with birds about which lullabies work best
and about the grey color of cement

for him I have this sympathy

 

***

there’s this one place with a lot of people I don’t know
they look at me while holding glasses of white wine
a guitar the color of smoke in the background some large plant as well
they put their hands together and three wrinkles appear by their eyes
they indicate it’s easier to speak at a bar or club
(they indicate if there is anything to indicate)
they also indicate, to be continued

waiting to be continued I remember
I need to get my wisdom teeth out
and to inoculate myself against mad loneliness disease
to slowly crack open my heart
and maybe go to yoga too
(now instead of five breaths I take three)

a stranger will straighten my spine
pour rice into my sock
(and then the sock will accidently catch on fire)

if there is anything to talk about
we can talk about hybrid warfare
or about the cracking wooden windowsills
about the plans we made when we were eight

(I planned to be an actor
a singer
a dancer
a secret agent)

now I follow this grey-haired woman
with large black glasses on Facebook
she posts about ticket inspections
14:42 at Vincos Kudirkos stop in the direction of the train station
they’re checking (tickets)
the woman is around 80 years old a grey suit
divorced, it says

I get a strange email on Wednesday
it says they know all my passwords
it says if I don’t pay $2,830
they will send my intimate pictures to eight friends
how nice, I think
people will finally know I have sexual organs
the day will come when you won’t have to hide anything

then I see another stranger
who indicates that he is the most terrible person in the family
but has a golden heart inside

then I remember our small courtyard on Trakų Street
how the grasses, from which yellow juices ran
were put on my warts by my mother
one day a wart popped up on my nose and I was very sad

when you’re a child, for some reason, you get a lot of warts

invasive slugs used to crawl around that courtyard
there would be a lot of them after rain
one time, I stepped on one while barefoot
it’s slimy head squeezed out through my little toes

now I can tell you a secret
my placenta was buried in 1994
in the courtyard of the Mickiewicz Library

for those who don’t understand –
it’s this little bag in which I fit until I was born

I think even then there were a lot of invasive slugs in the yard
especially when it rained

Translated by Rimas Uzgiris

 

 

Questionnaire

 

What prompted you to write your first piece and publish your work for the first time?

Patricija: I wanted to find out whether my work had any literary value to it. I was ready to be criticized, as I believe that criticism helps you become a better writer.
Linas: I can’t recall when I wrote my first piece, but I do know the impulse came from within. Something clicked, and I felt compelled to write. That is also the source of courage to publish my work.
Austėja: I can’t say I ever felt a strong feeling of motivation when it comes to writing. You either write or you don’t – it’s okay to write, and it’s okay not to. For me, poetry is an important part of life, albeit not a very visible one. Publishing it helps me check whether I’m still “any good,” so to speak.

 

How much influence do you draw from the Lithuanian literary tradition?

Patricija: I am more influenced by the (post)modern tradition – especially Vytautas Bložė, Ričardas Gavelis, and Saulius Tomas Kondrotas. I have read a lot of Lithuanian authors, so the influence is inevitable.
Linas: I would describe writing as fleeing from the influence of others, as fleeing from tradition. It is impossible to write something new. It is only possible to write in a different way. This is why I spend so much time editing my own work, sifting out the clichés borrowed from the works of others. In terms of the Lithuanian literary tradition, I find it hard to describe. It used to influence me more than it does now. I am much more influenced by the Lithuanian mentality, which forces me into existential contemplation, pain, and the occasional Don Quixotean pursuit of meaning. My poetry is very much imbued with it.
Austėja: I think I am influenced by many things. I can’t say I’m especially influenced by the Lithuanian literary tradition because I am more of a cosmopolitan person – I read both Lithuanian and foreign authors. Freedom of choice is important. Some of my favorite writers are Lithuanian, and then there are some others who I feel are too heavy, too dark, or too dramatic. But that is the beauty of literature – its lack of boundaries.

 

Do you find it important to belong to a community of writers?

Patricija: Even though I am involved in organizing cultural events and interested in the contemporary literary scene, I feel like an outsider, especially among the young writers. I don’t feel like I belong to a writers’ community, nor do I perceive it as an issue.
Linas: Belonging to a community of writers is important, as it is a part of living a literary life and publishing your work. A community also gives you the pleasure of discussion and conversation, and it helps you find like-minded people.
Austėja: I don’t think that belonging to a community is more important than getting to know people separately and discovering their work. But even though I know a lot of writers, I find myself outside the literary circles. I once told somebody that my passion for travel gets in the way of my “career in poetry” – I don’t go to many readings or literary events. Perhaps that is why I feel like I don’t belong.

 

In your opinion, what place does literature hold in today’s culture, which is dominated by imagery and visual media?

Patricija: In the digital age, literature reminds us, in Baudrillard’s terms, of a simulacrum, which can help us furnish the void of modern living. I am certain that literature, especially poetry, is still very relevant.
Linas: Literature holds an important place in today’s visual culture because it is discovered by those who truly need it, who truly find it important. Perhaps readership is in decline, but avid readers are always present
Austėja: I believe that literature always maintains its place and that neither of these spheres compete with each other. Whichever trend dominates culture, anything left in its shadow does not become less relevant. Literature is like a great, beautiful, polished stone, its weight and place unchanging. Readers will keep reading. After all, going to a library or choosing a book are among the greatest joys of life.

 

Name one favorite, currently active foreign author:

Patricija: Fernanda Melchor and her novel Hurricane Season.
Linas: Kārlis Vērdiņš.
Austėja: If I must pick one author, I choose Louise Glück. Sometimes when I read her work I cannot help but think this silly thought: that I want to write like she does. Her poetry is not coarse or pretentious, and its depth is immense. Louise Glück is a wonderful writer.

 

Do you see yourself with a career in literature in the future? Would it be enough to sustain you financially?

Patricija: I don’t think I could sustain myself financially from literature in Lithuania. It is more like an existential driving force for me, but I’m not sure whether it could offer a source of self-supporting revenue.
Linas: It is not likely I will escape literature. It is an addiction of mine. So I will probably look for ways to support myself from it.
Austėja: I am always involved in literature, even though it isn’t my main activity. I also do illustrations. Both these pursuits are equally important to me, although I am more active as an illustrator. To me, literature is like a compassionate friend – she’s always there for you, but you cannot expect her to put food on your table. I try to be more accepting of life and feel like expectations can become a trap. So I’d like to go where life takes me.

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